Fire authority chair brands e-scooters “fire risk” after Voi warehouse blaze in Bristol

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The head of Avon Fire Authority has branded e-scooters a “fire risk” following a warehouse blaze involving hundreds of Voi vehicles.

In a damning statement to a council meeting, authority chairwoman and Bristol city councillor Brenda Massey said there was growing evidence electric scooters posed a “hazard” and criticised Voi, the company running the regional trial with the West of England Combined Authority (Weca).

Cllr Massey said the fire service had “considerable difficulty” extinguishing e-scooter fires because the electric battery was sealed and the only way was to completely submerge them in water, which contaminated the two-wheelers and made them hard to dispose of safely.

Voi said safety was its top priority and that it worked closely with fully licensed specialist partners to recycle and dispose of damaged vehicles and batteries safely.

It said it had strict measures in place to ensure batteries were handled and stored safely and that in the “rare case” of an incident, the company acted swiftly to support authorities including the fire service. Southmead ward Labour Cllr Massey’s high-profile position adds serious weight to the ongoing debate about e-scooters, which are currently illegal on roads outside official trial areas.

More than 200 Voi e-scooters were damaged at a warehouse blaze in Brislington on January 1.More than 200 Voi e-scooters were damaged at a warehouse blaze in Brislington on January 1.
More than 200 Voi e-scooters were damaged at a warehouse blaze in Brislington on January 1.

A review by Transport for London (TfL) found defective lithium batteries could set light to the vehicles and they are now banned on public transport in the capital.

In Bristol, an electrical fault sparked a blaze at a Brislington warehouse that damaged more than 200 Voi e-scooters and a further 275 batteries on New Year’s Day.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) spent more than four hours at the scene in Dixon Road to make sure the flames did not reignite, which a spokesperson said was common in fires caused by lithium batteries.

Last month, crews were called to smoke billowing from a long rental Voi at a man’s Bristol home.

In a written statement to Bristol City Council member forum on Tuesday, January 11, Cllr Massey said: “Following the increased use of e-scooters, there have been a number of cases of e-scooters catching fire, and AFRS has experienced considerable difficulty in putting out the fires due to the nature of the scooters.

“The electric battery is sealed, and it appears that the only way to put out a fire of this nature is to completely submerge the scooter in water.

“The result is that the scooter is then contaminated, and it is difficult to remove it safely.

“A recent e-scooter fire in the central area proved very challenging to resolve due to the contamination, and eventually AFRS had to contact the company the scooter belonged to so it could be taken away for safe disposal.”

Labour Cllr Brenda Massey at a full council meeting of Bristol City Council on Tuesday, November 9.Labour Cllr Brenda Massey at a full council meeting of Bristol City Council on Tuesday, November 9.
Labour Cllr Brenda Massey at a full council meeting of Bristol City Council on Tuesday, November 9.

Referring to the warehouse blaze, she said: “Although AFRS put out the fire, they had real difficulty getting a representative of the company to attend on site, as they were extremely reluctant to attend the incident.

“This follows an earlier fire at a house where a private scooter was being stored and resulted in the house being virtually gutted by the severity of the fire.

“I understand that the police & crime commissioner is also concerned about the safety of these scooters.”

Cllr Massey said the use and storage of the vehicles was “very worrying”.

She asked: “With the increased availability of e-scooters, both on the trial and privately owned, what arrangements are in place to deal with the disposal of these contaminated items?”

In a written reply, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said: “It is Important to highlight this is a trial and all safety concerns are continually evaluated by Weca and Voi to improve safety.

“Batteries for large electrical items should be disposed safely either at a household waste and recycling centre or through booking a bulky waste collection.”

Cllr Massey said: “Given there is now increasing evidence, both in Bristol and other areas that they are a fire risk, appropriate arrangements for safety and disposal are essential.

“As it appears that they will be an ongoing feature in the city, sanctioned by the council, can we be reassured that adequate safety measures are in place to deal with these hazards?”

Mr Rees replied: “In terms of the Voi trial, incidences of fire hazards have been isolated and are not considered indicative of the entire rollout, but this will continue to be monitored.”

In response to Cllr Massey’s concerns, Voi said that at no point was it reluctant to attend the warehouse incident and that a representative was on site just after the fire began before another senior representative arrived shortly afterwards followed by the Voi warehouse manager and his wider team.

Voi UKI general manager Jack Samler said: “We pride ourselves on placing safety as our top priority and are working closely with our fully licensed specialist partners to safely recycle and dispose of the damaged vehicles and batteries in a responsible manner, with zero waste going to landfill.

The e-scooter trial launched in Bristol in October 2020.The e-scooter trial launched in Bristol in October 2020.
The e-scooter trial launched in Bristol in October 2020.

“Voi has strict measures in place to ensure all batteries are handled and stored in a safe manner throughout its operations.

“In a rare case an incident does occur, Voi acts swiftly to support the authorities, including the fire service, to ensure appropriate action is taken.

“As a responsible business, we work with our partners to continually review and audit the processes and practices in place to ensure the safety of our operations.”

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